Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from John 10:22-30
on April 29, 2007, (Senior Sunday) at Batesville Presbyterian Church
Our scripture this morning begins by pointing us toward the significance of a Jewish festival. John's gospel tells us: "At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem." Many of us are not familiar with Jewish festivals. I turned to wikipedia and learned this Jewish festival is now called Hanukkah. Hanukkah is celebrated during the winter around Christmas. Whereas we put lights on our Christmas trees, the Hanukkah ritual is to light a single candle each night for eight nights to celebrate the miraculous survival of the Jewish people through the ages. Jesus once said: "I am the light of the world." Perhaps he got this idea from observing the lighting of the eight candles during the celebration of Hanuakah.
In our scripture this morning, it was the season of Hanukkah, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. Jesus' opponents gathered around him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.' Here is a question of identity. These are two of the most important questions for teenagers such as our graduates this morning. One of your tasks for the next four years, and indeed for the rest of your lifetime, is to determine who you are. According to our Biblical faith, our identity is revealed not so much by who we are as by whose we are. Like the Jewish people who celebrate Hanukah, we also are children of God not only by genetics by also by faith. All humans are made in the image and likeness of God and in that respect all human beings are children of God. We are children of God in that respect but also in a more radical way. We are part of God's family not only by genetics by also by choice. God has chosen us to be part of God's family and we have chosen to be part of God's family. So we are twice blessed, by birth and by choice. This is what we mean when we say we, along with the Jewish people, are members of God's covenant people.
Jesus' opponents demanded that he tell them whether he was the Messiah. The next step after discovering our identity as children of God is to express that identity through our words and actions. We can say we are God's people by the work that we do as well as by the words we say. Part of our Christian vocation is to discover, claim and express our identity as children of God.
It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. Our graduating seniors have been walking in the temple for some years now. They have been walking in the temple of this sanctuary, the temple of our youth house, and the temple of their own bodies. Young people, take good care of your temple. Your body is the temple of your soul so take good care of your soul's temple by taking good care of your body. Feed your body good food and give it plenty of rest as enough physical exercise to keep it toned up and ready for service. Jesus walked through the temple in Jerusalem and you are walking today in our version of the temple, this sanctuary here in Batesville. As you walked the center aisle during the processional this morning to the sound of the organ playing Pomp and Circumstance, you passed a milestone in your human development. You have crossed over this morning from the land of childhood into the land of young adulthood. As you enter young adulthood you will likely find yourself in another congregation, or perhaps for a time, not active in weekly worship. Even so, the roots of faith have been rooted deep within your souls and you will return to worship in the congregation of your choice in due time.
Jesus answered his critics who wanted him to tell them he was the Messiah, saying, 'I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
Along the way in our journey, we will face opposition. Some people will want to influence or control our speech and behavior. Such people and situations call for us to exercise the gift of discernment. Some people we meet will have chosen not to belong to God's covenant family, and we respect these people too, even as we learn to guard our heart. We may experience seasons of doubt in God and ourselves and if we do I hope our parents or family and friends will have enough faith in us to give us time and space to find our way through our doubts. If so, we will come out on the other side with an even greater faith in God and a more secure foundation in Christ.
Throughout the times of struggle and conquest, learn to listen for the voice of the good shepherd amidst the din of doubt and diversity. Learn to hear the voice of Jesus in your own conscience. Learn to listen to the still small voice from within. There is no doubt in my mind that God dwells inside each one of you. Learn the language of silence which is God's first language. Learn a spiritual practice such as centering prayer that teaches you how to communicate with God on the level of spiritual communication. As you learn that language you will learn that there is nowhere you can go where God is not already there. There is nothing you can say that God has not heard before. There is nothing you can do that God will not forgive and redeem. You are, in an ultimate and eternal sense, safe. You are safe in God's heart because God is securely situated in your heart. Jesus says about you what he said about his original disciples: "I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand."
Jesus said: "The Father and I are one." As we get to know God better, especially through a practice such as centering prayer, we learn that Christ is one with God and we are one with Christ therefore we are one with God. This revelation transforms our lives and causes us to reconsider our priorities. No longer will getting ahead be our primary motivation. Now we are satisfied to rest in God. That rest will recharge our spiritual batteries and propel us into the depths of greater service of God and all people.
As we grow older we will learn the truth that we are one with God. We learn that the kingdom of heaven is not something up there or after we die. The kingdom of heaven is here and now. We learn this when we discover the power of now. The lesson we need to learn is how to live in the present moment. Then we will find ourselves living in heaven on this earth and we will be very happy indeed.
The oil in the Hanukah candles is a metaphor for the miraculous survival of the Jewish people through millennia of trials and tribulations. Persevearance is the key to spiritual growth throughout our adult lives. The Christian journey continues every day that we are alive on this earth and it continues even after we die. Throughout the ages for the past 2000 years God has guarded and guided Christ's church. We are part of a remarkable heritage. Jesus says about us: "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."
The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not so that passers-by should see it and be reminded of the holiday's miracle. Therefore, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. The lights of Hanukah remind us of our graduating seniors whom we honor this mornig. They have the light of Christ within them. They will share the light of Christ with the world. Our graduating seniors are beautiful lamps full of divine light and we bask in the glow of God's love that you cast upon the world. We send them out into the world as living flames of Christ's love.